|Hindu Religion is like a Banyan tree with many branches and roots. The branch of a banyan tree
develops its own roots when it is fully grown. The branches of Hinduism such as Vaishnavam,
Shivam, Sakthism, Jainism, Buddhism, etc. have developed their own deep roots. Though there are
many branches, roots, leaves and flowers, the banyan tree is only one! Hinduism, like the banyan
tree is a single unified entity with diversified beliefs and customs. Hinduism strongly emphasizes
swadharma (Values based on individual beliefs). Hindu faith is often known as "Sanaatana
Dharma" (that which is ancient and eternal). Hindu Dharma requires Hindus to respect and sustain
their environment! Dharma is a pledge to lead a harmonious life without disturbance to peace in
Hindu Scriptures are broadly classified into Sruti (heard and transmitted), Smriti (remembered and
collated), Itihaasa (epics), Purana (stories and values) and Aagma (temple related rules for prayers,
rituals and construction). Vedas constitute Sruti. The four Vedas: Rig, Saama, Yajur and Atharva
are treasured as the most ancient heritage and Hindus believe that Vedas are eternal and never
created! The subject-matter of Vedas is classified into three categories: Karma, Upasanaa, and
jnana. Karma discusses obligations of each individual. Upasanaa provides guidance for divine
communion and worship. Jnana is the philosophical disquisition about Brahman, the supreme
reality. These philosophical discussions in the last portions of each Veda are known as Upanishads.
Scriptures, compiled by the great sages, Yajnavalkya, Manu and Parasara are known as Smriti .
Itihasa comprises of the two epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata written respectively by sages
Valmiki and Vedavyasa. Vedavyasa also wrote the eighteen Puranas and eighteen
Upa(sub)-puranas. Each purana emphasizes a specific Hindu value and dramatizes a story with a
virtuous hero, an evil villain, and supporting characters on either side! In general, the hero is a
favored deity, who represents the Supreme Reality and others become demigods and play
subordinate roles. Aagmas define elaborate rules for temple construction and rules for conducting
rituals and prayers in the temple premises.
Relevance of Temples in Hindu Religion and Culture
Throughout Indian history, temples have exercised an enormous influence on religious and social
life, and traditions. Famous Hindu temples such as Somanathpur had enormous wealth and became
targets of foreign invasions. The Hindu temple is a place of worship like any other but it has unique
features that elevate it to a greater spiritual excellence and appreciation. Orthodox temples are built
according to Aagmas and the sacred ones are located in higher altitudes on top of hills. Elevated
temples symbolize the importance of spirituality over worldly life. Kings and rich citizens in the
community provided generous funds to the construction and maintenance of temples. Temples have
contributed to the employment of architects, artisans, sculptors, and laborers. The shrines and
icons have given peace to the frustrated minds. Music, dance and fine arts programs including
religious and musical discourses staged in the temples have encouraged musicians, dancers,
dramatists, artists and religious scholars. The granaries of temples were used to feed the hungry,
and temple buildings have provided shelters to both scholars and students. Some temples were
equipped to provide medical services to the sick, elderly, and disabled. Thus, temples have provided
a variety of religious and social services and reinforced economic and social welfare of the Indian
society. Hindu temples in the U.S. and Canada act as cultural ambassadors and provide spiritual
and educational services to the Indian Community.
The temple also portrays God in the cosmic form. The statue of Nataraja (dance pose of Lord Siva)
is a well known example for the artistic, scientific and philosophical significance of idols. Hundreds
of articles and books have been written about the significance of the Nataraja's dance posture. In
the PBS show, COSMOS, Professor Carl Sagan asserts that the dance of Nataraja signifies the cycle
of evolution and destruction of the cosmic universe (Big-Bang Theory). The dance statue of
Nataraja is a symbolic representation of Vedanta. The dwarfish demon crushed under the feet
represents the demonic ego, which prevents humans to attain the inherent peace and bliss within.
The ego should be crushed to regain the Supreme Bliss! A more complete description is beyond the
scope of this article, and is therefore omitted.
Hindu Philosophy in a Nutshell
Vedanta, the starting premise of Hindu Religion, asserts that Brahman (the abstract God) is the
Absolute Truth. Brahman has multiple roles to play: the creator, the maintainer, and the destroyer
all in one. Vedanta states that the universal soul, Brahman is eternal and the individual human
soul, Atman ultimately unifies with Brahman. Advaita implies the ultimate identity of Brahman
(Universal soul) and Jivatman (human soul). Dwaita opposes advaita on almost all points and
maintains an ultimate diversity of Brahman and Jivatman. Visistadvaita (qualified non-duality)
maintains a crucial differentiation as well as a fundamental identity.
The Hindu philosophy and logic provide unassailable strength to the concept of the fundamental
unity in the worship of a multitude of gods. Hinduism is highly individualistic and Hindus love the
freedom to worship their personal choice of an icon to visualize the abstract Brahman. That
explains the rapid growth of temples, gods, and rituals across India and beyond. Even illiterate
villagers are proud and enthusiastic to elaborate on stories about their temple gods and their
significance. Such stories invariably are more adventurous and heroic than "Superman" episodes,
but with a divine touch. The temple epitomizes God in a spiritual form and the various parts of his
body symbolizes philosophical concepts. It serves as the symbolic link between Human and God,
between Material and Spiritual and between Obvious and Ideal. Names of the miscellaneous
segments of the temple designate different organs of the human body (garbhagraha (Sanctum
Sanctorium) represents the human heart).
Purpose of Hindu Symbolism
The symbolism in Hinduism is analogous to the modern communication methods adopted by the
computer industry. They both adjust to the diverse tastes and needs of the world. Only a small
segment of the general public look for sophistication and special features. The common folk who
are in the majority, demand simple illustrations and practical examples rather than lengthy logic!
The computer industry employs creative graphic displays of "icons" to satisfy the general public.
Hindu symbolism seems to imply that it does not believe in a one-size-fits-all theory! Artistic
temples with idols, heroic stories, and colorful rituals demonstrate this fact. Educated Hindus may
grasp a lot more from such symbolism, and unravel philosophical and spiritual truths of Vedanta.
Puranic stories create role models by dramatization of legendary events to preserve social ethics
(Dharma). An ideal spouse, parent, offspring, or teacher is orchestrated to help the society to
conduct its daily duties (nithya karma). Hinduism has perfected the art of symbolism as a powerful
media to teach complex philosophical ideas to the common man. The communication of values
using the puranic stories in Hinduism, resemble the case study procedures in business management
"Karma Theory" in Hindu Religion has lots of resemblance to modern economic theory. According
to Karma theory, "good" and "bad" can be accumulated and a net balance can be maintained. If
the net balance is positive (more "good" and less "bad") then the person is rewarded with good
deeds. If the net balance becomes negative, the person is punished with bad deeds. Karma theory
assumes more than one life, and an individual can choose to make sacrifices in the present life to
gain better life during next birth! When a person lives a sinful life, then he is likely to get an inferior
life during the next birth. The economic theory rationalizes the personal "saving" and "borrowing"
behavior of the public. Those who save have to make sacrifices during the current time in order to
live comfortably during another time. Those who borrow money also accept the outcome from such
It is quite reasonable for some one to ask the validity of karma theory. Who keeps the account of
'good' and 'bad?' There are several explanations for those inter generational accounts and
transactions! Let me try to explain my viewpoint on karma theory. I believe that there are no
external judges! Time is a human concept and in "pure religion", there is no time! Once we include
time, we all experience birth and death at every instant! Our behavior can't be predicted for the
next moment. We do remember what we did yesterday. We do recognize that whatever we
experience today is influenced by what we did before! Karma theory implies that what we do today
has strong influence on what is going to happen tomorrow! If we clean our house today it will have
a cleaner look than otherwise. Also a dirty house today will be also dirtier tomorrow! Karma
theory, like the modern economic theory, rationalizes the human behavior in a nutshell.